Saudi interfaith conference begins in Makkah

Posted in Broader Middle East | 05-Jun-08 | Source: Gulf in the Media

Arab News

Dialogue is the best way to move forward, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah said yesterday as Muslim scholars led by Saudi Grand Mufti Abdul Aziz Al-Asheikh endorsed his call for opening a dialogue with people of other faiths at the start of a historic three-day summit at the Royal Al-Safa Palace.

The king started his address with a prayer to Almighty Allah for the determination and strength to take up the Islamic mission of cordial dialogue with other faiths even if the other side is hostile. The king cited Chapter 16, Verse 125 of the Holy Qur’an: “Invite to the Way of the Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching; and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious.”

The king said in his opening speech that those amidst Muslims that hold extremist ideologies have compounded the challenges faced by Islam.

“The enemies of Islam target the salient goals of Islam such as tolerance and justice. That is why your brother invited you to assemble here in order to find ways to counter the challenges of isolation, ignorance, narrow vision and convey to the world the broad Islamic messages based on humanitarian principles and away from hostility and aggression.”

King Abdullah reminded scholars and thinkers of the purpose of the conference.

“You gathered today to say to the world around us, with confidence, that Allah bestowed upon us,” he said. “We are the voice of justice and human moral values, and we are the voice of rational and just coexistence and dialogue, the voice of wisdom and admonition. Allah says, ‘Invite all to the Way of Thy Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching; and argue with them in ways that are best’ and InshaAllah, we will do so.”

The Muslim world, he said, should take steps to counter the forces against human progress.

“This invitation from your brother is to counter challenges of rigidity, ignorance, narrow-mindedness and to make the world accommodate the concepts and the prospects of the kind message of Islam without enmity or antagonism... Islam’s greatness founded the concepts of dialogue and sets its milestones, which are reflected in Allah’s saying, ‘Were Thou severe or harsh-hearted, they would have broken away from about thee’.”

He also said that hearts are filled by faith, tolerance and love.

“Yes, the way to the others is through shared values advocated by the divine messages, which were revealed by Allah for the benefit of humanity to preserve their dignity and promote the ethical values and dealings, which certainly are not in conformity with deception,” he said. “These values, which reject treason, alienate crime, combat terrorism and despise lying. These lay the bases for good morals, honesty, truthfulness and justice, and enhance the concepts of family values and its cohesion and ethics, which are slowly diminishing at present and disintegrating ties, and where human beings are distancing themselves from their Lord and the teachings of their religion.”

He stressed the importance of the task at hand. “From the vicinity of the Holy Mosque of Makkah, we begin — with the Will of Allah, and, from there, we will move in our dialogue with the others in confidence derived from our faith in Allah and then from knowledge sought from our tolerant religion,” the king said. “We will argue in ways that are best; what we agree upon we accept it in our hearts, and what we disagree about we refer to the sublime, saying ‘Lakum Deenakum Waliya Deen’ (To you, be your way and to me mine).”

Former Iranian President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani welcomed the king’s proposal of engaging people of other faiths but cautioned that Muslims have to close their ranks and not allow their “enemies” to exploit differences among the Islamic schools of thought.

“I am a Shiite, and I spent all my life studying Islam,” he told the audience. “And let me tell you here that we (Shias and Sunnis) have 95 percent in common. Why should we then allow the difference of five percent to let our enemies play havoc with?”

Abdul Aziz Al-Asheikh, the Saudi grand mufti, endorsed the king’s project and said the whole Ummah was looking up to the benevolent king to take the lead and bringing different communities of the world together.

“He has taken this step with good intention and this is the only way of propagating the real values of Islam,” Al-Asheikh said, adding: “We cannot live in an isolation. We need to cooperate with others to make the most of advancement in all aspects of life.”

The summit has brought together some of the most influential scholars, academics and organization leaders in the Muslim world, who all expressed hope and optimism that this meeting of the minds would help improve relations with people of different religious backgrounds or Islamic schools of thought.

“This conference is a historic opportunity,” said Muslim World League Secretary-General Abdullah Abdulmohsen Al-Turki. “It brings together leading Islamic scholars and thinkers from across the globe.”

“This conference offers a new channel to strengthen cooperation among Muslims,” said Al-Azhar University Grand Sheikh Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi. “It is essential to reduce differences and promote understanding.”

In attendance at the inaugural ceremony were many leading scholars of the Muslim world, including Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi from Qatar, Lebanon’s Mufti Sheikh Muhammad Rasheed Qabbani, Darul Uloom Deoband’s Marghoobur Rahman, Organization of the Islamic Conference Secretary-General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, Pakistan Jamaat-e-Islami chief Qazi Hussain Ahmed and chief of Indian Jamaat-e-Islami Syed Jalaluddin Umri.

Some 600 Muslim intellectuals and academics are attending the summit to work out the details and parameters of the interfaith dialogue.